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Loudspeakers | floor-standing


Manufacturer: GRADIENT LABS Ltd.
Price (when reviewed):
24 990 PLN/pair

Gradient Labs Ltd. ǀ Kisällintie 8
FI-06150 Porvoo | Finland


Provided for test by: MOJE AUDIO

t should not be that way, we should not talk about such things, but we also can't detach ourselves from real life. The end of May and beginning of June was a very sad period for audio industry, we lost as many as three amazing people who - each in their field – had a great influence on the industry. On May 26th 2018, David A. Wilson II, the founder of Wilson Audio and the person behind the great success of this company passed away. He was 73 years old. A day later, on May 27th, Jorma Salmi, the founder of Gradient, company specializing in producing high quality loudspeakers, died. He was 69 years old. Then, on June the 6th, Wally Malewicz, our compatriot, world's leading turntable specialist passed away.

However, people live as long as we remember them, so let us celebrate their presence by contemplating their legacy. This time, let's take a look at the very last loudspeaker from Mr. Salmi, model 1.4. It is a beautiful design, a pinnacle of his professional life, featuring similar solutions as used in the 1.3 model from 1989. It was the first "international" model by Gradient: a three-way design with a bass driver facing the floor, a dipolar midrange speaker placed on top of it, and a tweeter array attached on top. Official information tells us about the contribution to their appearance by designer Jukka Vaajakallio, but the key factor was the acoustic aspect – the point was to benefit from the interaction of the speakers with the room.

| The acoustics is everything

The often repeated anecdote says that Jorma Salmi once asked at a reception by a known designer about the basic assumptions of this design, he replied: "none", it is hard to verify whether the story is true, though. However, regardless of its authenticity, as for the speaker "from nobody" (do you remember the cinema movie Sex in the big city?) they are quite well-known. One can find them in many museums of contemporary art, for example in New York's MoMA. The unique appearance of the 1.3 model and many following ones resulted in the Helsinki 1.5 being placed on the pages of The Absolute Sound's Illustrated History of High-End Audio, Volume 1: Loudspeakers from 2011 in a frame titled (that's my interpretation): Oddities.

However, it is not about shocking effect or even about standing out at all costs in the case of Gradient speakers. Their appearance is the implementation of a specific concept – it is about controlling floor reflections, directionality and dispersion. And yet, as in his book Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound, Mark Waldrep rightly notes, the listening room and how it interacts with the speakers are the most important problems that must be solved if we want to achieve high-quality sound. Without this step, one can't even dream about the realistic illusion of the "presented world".

It seems that the Gradient achieved it in a special way - the above-mentioned publication of The Absolute Sound, ends the entry about this brand's loudspeakers with: "The sound wave controlled by Helsinki gives, without the usual narrow beam focus, a unique sense of" directness "of the sound and their precise stereophony is simply unmatched. This is a unique design, suiting the Gradient innovation tradition. "

JORMA SALMI (1948-2018)

Jorma Salmi, the founder and chief designer of Gradient, worked earlier for a Nokia and a major Finnish company called Lohja Corporation Electronics. He was assigned the responsibility to manage the company’s acoustic laboratory, and in that capacity Salmi designed a few very advanced loudspeakers over the years. Later, he hired Anders Weckström to join him in the lab, and together they started to carry out investigations as how a loudspeaker interacts with the listening room.

The beginning | In 1982, they presented a paper "Listening room influence on loudspeaker sound quality and ways of minimizing it" at the 71st AES Convention in Montreux. In the paper they showed that almost any loudspeaker of reasonable quality behaves surprisingly well in an anechoic room, and that the differences come into the play when the speakers are dragged in a normal listening room.

Start | After working on the subject for some years, Jorma Salmi was confident enough to establish his own loudspeaker company - Gradient, together with two associates Jouko Alanko and Mikko Paloranta. The year was 1984. The idea was to design and manufacture loudspeakers for ordinary listening rooms by controlling the speaker - room interactions.

Model 1.3

The first client of the newly established company was the Sibelius University, which ordered in Gradient many different loudspeakers - both for the university rooms and lecture halls. The company was so busy with these orders that it was only in 1989 that they proposed a model from which their story really began: the 1.3, which we have already mentioned. Until that time, the loudspeakers had been sold almost exclusively in Finland, but since 1991, the global career of these solutions has begun. And an amazing story related to the QUAD company. As you know, the ELS-63 electrostatic loudspeakers did not reproduce low bass. Its founder, Mr. Peter Walker, got acquainted with the Gradient achievements and ordered the SW-63 subwoofer in this company, which was also used as a stand for the electrostats. No other company succeeded in this task.

Coaxial speaker | The first coaxial driver was used by Gradient in 1993 for the Revolution model. But it was the Prelude from 1999 that introduced this solution to many homes of less wealthy music lovers. This type of system, characterized by phase alignment, has become the favorite choice of Mr. Salmi. Based on the Prelude's popularity, new small monitors were created, Lauri, Laura and Five.

Model Helsinki 1.5

The idea behind these speakers was so convincing, that in 2002 Gradient designed a loudspeaker for Mr. Kiuchi, the owner of Combak Corporation, that after being refined in Japan, with a different cabinet and after adding a few elements, were introduced to the market as the Bravo!. Later, in 2016, also for Mr. Kiuchi, the Encore ENC-5 model was designed, for which the starting point was the Five speaker. All of them featured the SEAS system, and in the 1.4 model, for the first time, the coaxial system modified for Gradient in Finland was used.

Jorma Salmi, one of the most experienced loudspeaker designers of our time passed away on May 27th 2018.


The news about Mr. Salmi passing arrived when I was finalizing the test of his latest design. How should I behave in this situation? What should I say? And what shouldn't I say? There are no good answers to these questions. So I focused on what depended on me - on the speakers. I asked the son of Mr. Salmi, Atte, about some important facts concerning the reviewed model. WP

WOJCIECH PACUŁA: first of all - my deepest condolences for your loss... It was really tragic for all of us...
ATTE SALMI: Thank you for the kind words.

Tell us please, who designed 1.4 - you or your dad?
We decided it together. The original idea from the outlook and the concept itself came from me. However, Jorma was very heavily involved in acoustics design.

What was the main goal with this unique construction?
Many still remember Gradient from the old 1.0 - 1.3 models. We wanted to bring a product market having reflections from the 1.3 specially and still having technologies we have developed during the years after the 1.3. Like acoustic resistance enclosure and point source in mid and treble. Our goal is to make unique speakers which differentiate in the market. The sound always comes first but the design (outlook) is also very important. 

What kind of music do you listening in your spare time?
Personally I listen classical music very much, acoustical music anyway.

What was last project of your dad?
The Gradient 1.4 was the last. He had many spare time project all the time like renovating old radios he had. As well as old Citroen cars.

How you are going to lead Gradient - any new ideas?
We will continue like we have done so far. Personal world class speakers which are designed keeping "out of the box" thinking in mind.

| Model 1.4

It should be obvious by now that - like most of the company's designs - the 1.4 model differs from the majority of cuboids with drivers bolted to their fronts. This is a three-way design, consisting of two modules - low-frequency and mid-high frequency ones. Together, they form a shape that reminded me a human figure in some iconography used, for example, on railway stations or airports. There is also some remote resemblance to the Grundig Audiorama 8000 spheres from the 1970s.

The sphere-shaped module features a coaxial system consisting of a 176 mm midrange driver with a pre-coated reed paper cone and a 25 mm metal dome tweeter. Its diaphragm is made of aluminum-magnesium alloy (AlMg). The choice of a spherical housing is, from the acoustics point of view, obvious, but not commonly used. Today, it is known primarily from the designs by the French company Cabasse, whose most expensive model is called "La Sphere". This housing has been named by the manufacturer: Acoustic Resistance Enclosure, and is designed to eliminate standing waves inside and prevent the sound waves from bending outwards; is a variant of a variovent cabinet.

The sphere-shaped module is placed on rubber washers in the cut-out of the main, cone-shape cabinet with a beveled spike and connected to it using a gold-plated XLR plug. The crossover is housed in the above mentioned cone - the bass woofer covers the band from 200 Hz down.

The 220 mm metal-cone driver is directed towards the floor and works in a bass reflex cabinet tuned to 27 Hz. The frequency response of the loudspeaker starts from 45 Hz and goes up to 27 kHz (+/- 2 dB).

| Set up in a room

Do not be afraid of the exotic appearance of Gradients, because they are very easy to set up in a room – in many ways they are even easier to set up than classic designs. One can find a lot of useful information in the manual. It strongly suggests that it is best to place them apart at a distance corresponding to their distance from the listener, i.e. on two corners of an equilateral triangle. During the design process, a special attention was paid so that the speakers sounded well even when placed in a larger distance from listening spot, but it is recommended not to sit too far away from them because the room's influence on the sound increases. It's just about listening to them in so-called semi-near field, i.e. exactly as I listen to speakers in my system.

The separated mid-high-tone module, the "sphere", allows for significant changes in the loudspeaker's geometry. We can set it in any way, both in vertical and horizontal plain. In fact, the idea is for the coaxial system to be directed exactly to the listening position. In company materials, it reads that the tweeter uses the midrange membrane as a horn to improve its directionality. The system is thus characterized by a cardioid radiation pattern. The company claims that the backward radiation is dampened by 20 dB.

It is going to matter, what amplifier will be used with these speakers. On paper, they seem to be quite effective with 87 dB sensitivity at 2.83 V @ 1 m. However, because the nominal impedance is 4 Ω, and the minimum is probably even lower (unfortunately we do not know how much lower), they need to be driven with at least 50 W at 8 Ω, and preferably even more. The maximum power is set at 250 W, and it reads in the manual that "Gradient 1.4 columns can withstand a short-time high power load".

GRADIENT in „High Fidelity”
  • TEST: Gradient FIVE | loudspeakers – bookshelf
  • TEST: Gradient HELSINIKI 1.5 | loudspeakers – floor-standing

  • Recordings used for the test (a selec- tion)

    • Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, Rosary Sonatas, viol. Rachel Podger, Channel Classics CCS SA 37315, 2 x SACD/CD (2015)
    • Stan Getz | Andrzej Trzaskowski Trio, Stan Getz | Andrzej Trzaskowski Trio, Polskie Radio PRCD1567, „Polish Radio Jazz Archives | 01”, CD (2013)
    • Stan Getz, Stan Getz w Warszawie, Polskie Nagrania „Muza” PNCD148, CD (1991)
    • The Cure, Disintegration, Fiction Records 8393532, CD (1989)
    • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, Misty, Three Blind Mice/First Impression Music FIM SACD 062 SACD/HDCD (1974/2004)
    • Vangelis, Blade Runner, Atlantic Records/Audio Fidelity AFZ 154, „Limited Edition | No. 2398”, SACD/CD (1998/2013)

    Japanese issues available at

    A perfect coherence is most likely the key feature of this Gradient speaker. Looking at their unusual - although known from the 1970s - shape one subconsciously expects an equally unusual sound. So when I heard the first sounds, in my case it was the Love Song by The Cure, I felt as if I suddenly shook off the haze. This is what prejudices and stereotypes mean. The sound of the 1.4 is absolutely classic in the sense, that it is far from what products such as, for example, open baffle Ciarry, or Avatar Audio loudspeakers with paper transducers from the 1970s and even Helsinki 1.5 have to offer.

    Because it's a pure, coherent and very relaxing sound. It's hard to call it "detailed" because it's not really about the "details" but rather about abundance of information. And it is information that form details, and then details are combined into a larger whole. It is clear that we the idea was to create a whole sound type of presentation, one that you don't have to analyze. The analysis is carried out earlier, and we, listeners, are offered a final result, an internally consistent sound.

    So these are speakers very suitable for long listening sessions. They have something of the smoothness and velvety of the classic Sonus Faber speakers, such as Guarnieri, even though they are not warm sounding. On the contrary, in the tonal balance one can feel the emphasis in the 800 Hz - 1 kHz range. It results in fluid, open sound without brightness. The high top is slightly rounded, but this is a common feature for all coaxial drivers I know. And probably the main reason for such velvety performance.

    The bass range “behaves” in a unique way too. One could say that these are mini-monitors with gentle bass support. Although conceptually and functionally it is a design that can be described as a combination of a “satellite monitor” and a subwoofer, sound does not suggest anything like that. One can't really hear the transition between the modules - that is, one can hear a nice mid-bass going down, it's fast and with really good response, but one can not point out the crossover point. Perhaps, it is because this range is not the most important in this case, it only supports the coaxial transducer on the top.

    It is connected, because it can not be otherwise, with the perfect phase coherence of these speakers. I know this type of presentation from other designs that are specially refined in this respect – one of them being the Avatar Audio - and it always results in a similar effect: incredibly smooth sound and amazingly natural soundstage. And this is because it does not impose the "presence" of performers and sounds, it does not outline their silhouettes. It offers rather a kind of impression than a colourism.

    Despite the fact that these speakers deliver such a smooth, enjoyable presentation, they also offer a very good differentiation - above all, of the space. Right after The Cure, I listened with interest to the comparison of two versions of Stan Getz in Poland album. It was recorded in 1960 during the Jazz Jamboree festival and it was originally released on a 10" mono vinyl record. Actually the Polskie Nagrania "Muza" recorded stereo sound using freshly purchased Telefunken tape recorders, but they released a mono version anyway.

    We got to know the stereo version of this recording as late as in 1991, released on Compact Disc. This is a very good edition, despite the fact that digital technology was still a recent issue in Poland back then - we did not even have a pressing company yet and the album was actually made in Hungary. In turn, in 2013, Polskie Radio published the Getz concert from the National Philharmonic with three tracks from the Stan Getz ... album.

    How different these versions are! Although they origin from the same master tape, the newer release places instruments closer to listener, almost at his fingertips. Gradients effortlessly showed that the high tones in the newer version were much better, because they were truer, better differentiated. I also immediately realized that with the instruments placed closer - probably by a slight compression - unfortunately the part of the ambiance/aura that surrounded them disappeared, and it was largely a natural reverberation of the Philharmonic, where the recording was made.

    Which version is better? Both deviate from the mono original and in this respect both are modifications. But every recording, after all, is a modification ultimately it is up to us, our taste to make a choice. Gradients 1.4, although smooth, although they are not masters of resolution (at least at first glance), allow listeners to make their own choices. What's more - they leave it to us, without trying to impose their version on us. The changes I am talking about, the differences between these versions, were immediately audible, even thought they were not highlighted. And that's what our hobby is all about.

    Finally, shortly about the interaction of the speakers with the room. The Helsinki model was a unique construction, primarily due to using an open baffle design. Their sound depended mainly on the interaction with the room, that is on the acoustics. Model 1.4 is extremely different. Sound is built solidly in front of us and the acoustics of our room disappear. This is the effect of them being, to a large extent, independent from the room. They can be precisely set up to match the distance from the listening position and from the side walls. Downward facing woofer and bass-reflex port also contribute to a big, though not complete, independence of proximity of the back wall. Really versatile design!


    Although they look different then the traditional loudspeakers, their sound is perfectly balanced. Coherence, smoothness and clarity - these are their main qualities. They sound like mini-monitors but with larger sound volume. Despite the two-module design, they do not pump up bass, they do not pretend to be something more than they are, that they could "move the mountains". They sound pure, but without artificiality, they are also sweet, but without losing details. These are fantastic loudspeakers for long, relaxed listening sessions in any acoustic environment.

    The speakers look really great, even though there are no expensive, exclusive materials or exotic drivers. This impression is caused by their unique form and their modesty. Available in two colors, graphite-black and white, they are almost iconic for the 1970's.

    | Mid-treble section

    The sphere at the top contains a coaxial driver that starts its way in the Norwegian SEAS factory as the MR18REX/XF (H1699-08 / 06) model. In its center there is a dome of textile material - it is replaced in Finland with an aluminum and magnesium alloy dome. This system has been covered with a black metal mesh, which not only protects it, but also completes the sphere's surface. There is a similar mesh at the back side of the speaker - this one in turn covers the aperiodic vent. This technique has been known and used until the 1970s, but nowadays is rare; its other name is an aperiodic housing.

    The idea is to use a port or vent in the cabinet, sometimes more than one, with a strictly defined total cross-section, filled with damping material. The damping material resists the air flowing through the element. These types of enclosures combine the benefits of enclosed boxes, but with better control of the resonance of the driver. What's more, they allow the use of a smaller working volume than it would be required for a closed enclosure.

    | Bass section

    The woofer section has the shape of a cone with a cut-out on the top. From the top there is a hollow space in which the sphere (midrange/treble section) is placed. On the bottom it features the bass woofer, working up to 200 Hz, as well as the bass-reflex port tuned to 27 Hz. There is also a nameplate with loudspeaker's basic parameters and a signature of Jorma Salmi, who tested them.

    An interesting fact - in the central point of the hollow space there is a plastic plaque with the inscribed words "Suomi/ Finland 100". As I assume, is about celebrating the 100th anniversary of Finland's independence, which counts from the liberation from the Russian occupation on December 6, 1917. And by the way - Suomi is a Finnish word meaning Finland. And it comes, most likely, from the proto-Baltic word żemē, which means "land". And, let me remind you, that Poland will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of regaining our independence - the aforementioned Russia was one of the invaders - less than a year later, on November 11th, 2018. As you can see, we have a lot in common ...

    The columns feature three 8mm high feet made of rubber and felt. In the user manual you will find information that you can replace them with spikes of similar height. From experience, however, I know that the spikes are not a good solution - it's better to keep original feet, or replace them with something clearly better. Great engineering.

    Data sheet (according to manufacturer)

    Frequency response: 45-20000Hz +/-2dB, 27Hz -6dB
    Impedance: 4 ohm
    Sensitivity: 87dB/2,83V/1m
    Recommended amplifier power: 50-250W
    Drivers: 1x220mm long throw woofer, 176mm pre-coated reed-paper cone midrange, coaxial Al/Mg dome 25mm
    Crossover frequency: 200Hz and 2500Hz
    Features: Adjustable listening angle for midrange and treble.
    Connections: Binding posts
    Dimensions (WHD): 32 x 88 x 32cm
    Weight: 15kg



    - Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
    - Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
    - Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

    - Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE

    - Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
    - Power amplifier: Soulution 710
    - Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

    - Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
    - Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
    - Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
    - Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
    - Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
    - Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
    - Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

    - Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
    - USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
    - LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
    - Router: Liksys WAG320N
    - NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
    System I
    - Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
    System II
    - Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

    System I
    - Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
    - Power Line: power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m); wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
    System II
    - Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
    - Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
    - Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
    - Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
    - Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
    - Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

    - FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One